The Spectator

Letters | 25 June 2015

Plus: Hong Kong’s effective currency union; when Glastonbury lost its edge; and Ireland’s Nobel literature laureates

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Free trade with Africa

Sir: Nicholas Farrell suggests that a naval blockade is the only solution to Italy’s immigration crisis (‘The invasion of Italy’, 20 June). Examining the causes of the situation might identify other measures.

Since the European Union effectively closed its borders to trade with Africa to protect European farmers from lower food prices, the agricultural economies of most African countries have been in decline.

Of course there is another reason for Africa’s decline. About 60 years ago, the Europeans found it convenient to convince themselves that in Africa self-government was better than good government. It followed that aid would be a convenient substitute for the risks or inconveniences of free trade. But the African dictators who emerged soon after were able to finance their corrupt and callous regimes on the beneficence of European taxpayers. Their own countries’ tax revenues were of no consequence and they dwindled.

Surely, therefore, what the EU needs to do is open its borders to free trade with Africa. This would be a first step towards the revival of Africa’s agricultural industries. Aid in all its forms should be denied to dictators (even those sheltering behind democratic facades), which will force them into policies beneficial to the revival of their own tax revenues. The loss of Europe’s common agricultural policy would be a small price to pay for the folly of African policies of the past. Free trade and no aid might not be popular, but it could benefit both Africans and Europeans.

Nigel Bruce

King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Take Hong Kong

Sir: It is not entirely true to say that ‘currency unions do not work unless there is full political and economic union’ (Leading article, 20 June). Ever since 1983, Hong Kong has prospered while being effectively in currency union with the United States via a strict currency board mechanism. There is no trace of wider economic, let alone political union. The arrangement succeeds for Hong Kong because its economy has the flexibility, downwards as well as upwards, in wages and prices that enables external competitiveness to adjust without resort to exchange-rate adjustment, and because it is accepted that the resultant variability of prices is preferable to being exposed to potentially more volatile movements in the exchange rate.

The euro is in distress because the participant economies lack such structural flexibility, particularly in the context of downward cost adjustments (at least until far too late in the day). No amount of fiscal convergence and discipline, about which the euro’s architects have been so obsessive, is a sufficient substitute, even if it could be achieved.

Tony Latter

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Glastonbury Hilton

Sir: Steve Hilton (Arts, 20 June) fears that Spectator readers will not forgive him for writing in praise of the Glastonbury festival, which he has attended ‘off and on for more than 20 years’. On the contrary. The many Spectator readers who enjoyed our first Glastonbury 25 or more years ago have reason to be grateful to him. He has given us valuable new information about when, and perhaps why, the festival lost its edge.

Nicholas Rogers

Grantham, Lincolnshire

Ireland’s Nobel quartet

Sir: In Taki’s lather of support for his birthplace (High life, 13 June), he tells us that Greece is ‘the only small western European nation to win two Nobel Prizes for literature’. Try Ireland, with four: Yates, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney. I fear the excitement of the forthcoming Spectator cruise may have caused this uncharacteristic lapse.

Dr Carol Furlong

Stanford on Soar, Leicestershire

Too clever by half

Sir: Toby Young is right that intellectuals don’t make good politicians (Status anxiety, 13 June). In a miniature version of Michael Ignatieff’s political failure in Canada, I was recruited to become leader of the Act Party of New Zealand in early 2014, a party with a proud history and 20 years of unbroken representation in parliament. In one of my first interviews as leader I was asked if, given my libertarian views, I thought the government was wrong to ban siblings from marrying. I cleverly answered that indeed it was. At the general election in September I pulled off what James Delingpole would call ‘an epic fail’. Shortly after the defeat I was contacted by a journalist seeking my opinions about life as a public intellectual.

Jamie Whyte

Auckland, New Zealand

Are you good?

Sir: Elisa Segrave (Diary, 20 June) correctly identifies the American saying ‘I’m good’, which apparently means: ‘I’m OK, thanks.’ It has, sadly, now infected British English. The only reasonable response when British people erroneously say ‘I’m good’ when you enquire as to their health is to reply: ‘I’ll be the judge of that.’

Peter Cardwell

London W6

Answers on a postcard…

Sir: Stan Labovitch claims that ‘science offers natural explanations for the origin of the universe and the evolution of life’ (Letters, 20 June). I am delighted to hear it. I have often wondered why it is that a rationally intelligible universe exploded out of nothing to form stars, planets, and life; and why bits of it became conscious, loving, rational, moral, purposeful, creative and free. What are the ‘natural explanations’ for all that?

Keith Gilmour